It is the neologism of the moment in France: Islamo-Leftism , or the alliance between Islamists and the extreme left. In reality, no one agrees on its exact meaning or to what extent it is a real or imagined phenomenon.
On the one hand, there are those who fear that radical and undemocratic ideas are conquering the French university. And on the other, those who see an interference of political power in university autonomy.
The French government believes that Islamo-leftism is infiltrating higher education thanks to the new racial theories. Others mention gender and class theories, which converge with racial theories in so-called intersectional studies.
They argue, for example, that last summer’s demonstrations against violent or racist acts by the French police artificially transferred a problem from the United States, a society marked by racism, to a country like France, which does not officially recognize racial belonging. of its citizens.
The academic authorities consider that the announcement, by the Minister of Universities, Frédérique Vidal , of an investigation into the alleged Islamo-leftist infiltration in the university constitutes an unacceptable assault on academic freedom.
And they question the validity of the term: it has been used to designate those on the left who denounce the existence of systemic Islamophobia in France, or those who have criticized the limitations on the use of the Islamic veil in the name of minority rights .
“Islamo-leftism cannot be quantified, so an impartial investigation would be necessary,” the historian Pierre-André Taguieff defends by telephone, who in the first decade of the century defined and popularized the term Islamo-leftism. Taguieff sees “a penetration of political activism in the universities” and “a self-destruction of the university as a place for free debate by extremist circles.”
In an interview with the daily Libération , the star economist Thomas Piketty declares, on the contrary, that he does not know “any researcher who, neither near nor far, can be suspected of any complacency with the jihadists.” “This logic of general suspicion can only lead to polarization and nickname dialogue,” says Piketty, who, in his latest book, Capital and Ideology , addresses the history of colonialism. “Frédérique Vidal must leave,” he adds.
The political-university storm occurs when the National Assembly has just approved a law that seeks to better control the ideological agitators of Islamism. And it comes a few months after the beheading, at the hands of a jihadist, of Samuel Paty, a high school teacher who in his classes showed cartoons of Muhammad, the prophet of the Muslims, published years ago by the weekly Charlie Hebdo .
“I think that Islamo-leftism gangrene society as a whole and the university is not waterproof, it is part of society,” Vidal declared last Sunday on CNews. “What we observe in the universities is that, in effect, there are people who take advantage of the aura of their degree, or the aura they have, to defend radical or militant ideas.”
Last Tuesday, in the control session in the National Assembly, the minister announced that she will ask the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS, the equivalent of the Spanish CSIC) “to take stock of the set of investigations that are being developed in country”. The aim is to distinguish between “scientific research” and “militant”.
The following day, the government spokesman, Gabriel Attal, distanced himself from the initiative. And he assured that the French president, Emmanuel Macron feels “an absolute attachment to the independence of the teacher-researchers.”
The spokesman’s rectification was insufficient for the academic leadership. “Islamo-leftism, a political slogan used in public debate, does not correspond to any scientific reality,” says a statement from the CNRS.
“The CNRS condemns, in particular, attempts to delegitimize different fields of research, such as postcolonial studies, intersectional studies or works on the term race, or any other field of knowledge.” The French Conference of Rectors also protested.
The most enthusiastic support for Minister Vidal’s initiative has come from the conservative field. For the far right, Islamo-Leftism is a term in common use, the reverse of Islamophobia, another disputed word. The debate also divides the left: a left that could be called universalist – attached to the idea of a Republic of independent citizens and universal values such as human rights – versus another in which race or gender identity plays a prominent role. , and that in the name of defending the marginalized he has sometimes approached Islamist figures and groups.
All this happens against the background of France’s eternal suspicion of the US Some see this phenomenon as an import to France of the so-called American culture wars and of the fashions of the campus and of the left of this country. The paradox is that many of the theories made in the USA about gender, race or social class have their origin in French thinkers of the seventies such as Michel Foucault or Jacques Derrida.
Both are accused of McCarthyism, of promoting a witch hunt like that of US Senator Joe McCarthy in the mid-twentieth century against alleged Communist infiltrators in the US They see a thought police in the adverse field to control the universities and exclude to those who think differently.
“I think we are facing the same intellectual terrorism that Stalinist communism imposed on the university and research in the 1950s and 1960s,” says Taguieff. “There are also McCarthyist aspects: reactionaries, Islamophobes, racists are blacklisted.
They are forbidden to speak and their books are boycotted and denounced ”. Taguieff, however, does not believe, unlike the minister, that these currents “gangrene the entire society.” “It is a minority, but dynamic and attractive,” he says. “There is a seduction of radicalism, of extremism, and a hatred of moderation,” he adds.